2010-11 NHL Eastern Conference Preview: Atlantic Division
The NHL Atlantic Division has produced the Eastern Conference champion in three consecutive seasons, and six of the nine seasons over the past decade.
Most of that can be credited to having arguably the best goalie in the history of the game in net: Martin Brodeur led his team to three of the six appearances, and the Pittsburgh Penguins (two) and Philadelphia Flyers (one) got there by building a team that could score against him.
The Atlantic also has recently been the deepest division, with four teams regularly making the playoffs and three division winners since the lockout. These battles during the regular season have them primed for the playoffs, but also make it difficult for them to earn the top seeds.
Without further adieu, the preview of the division commences; check out this link to my regular season predictions to see how each team will be seeded in the East.
There Can Be Only One: Islanders
The New York Islanders are right on pace in their rebuilding process, but unfortunately for this season that means failing to reach April in contention for the playoffs again. Still, this team has improved enough to compete against anyone and cannot be taken lightly.
They have a very good blueline, but too few threats at forward to win without outstanding goaltending. Rick DiPietro's once insane contract now seems cheap, but he cannot stay healthy. At 40 years old, Dwayne Roloson is hardly reliable to take over.
The Islanders might be good enough to finish in third place in a couple divisions in the league, but in the Atlantic, the best they can do is make a push to get out of the cellar, and they will ultimately fall short of even that accomplishment.
Rangers Crush New York For Third Time in a Year
It is a bad year for Rangers in New York.
In April of last season, the New York Rangers crushed their fans with a shootout loss on the season's final game to miss the playoffs. Now the baseball Rangers of Texas are taking it to their beloved Yankees.
This coming April, the hockey version will disappoint its fans again, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
This squad has plenty of talent, but cannot seem to put it all together. No matter who they land and what their track record is for scoring prior to their arrival, this team cannot get the key goals at the key times. In the end, their methodology amounts to counting on Henrik Lundqvist to steal them victories, and no matter how good a goalie is, that is not a high percentage approach.
Devils Get Revenge For SNL Jabs at New Jersey
Next time Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen, playing New York Governor David Patterson, takes a shot at New Jersey, perhaps they can have someone in a Devil's jersey perform a hockey-style beat-down on fans in Islanders and Rangers jerseys. (Or remind everyone that New Jersey is home to both New York football teams by making the "mayor" or team owners pay protection to James Gandolfini).
Once again, New Jersey will get the better of both New York teams in the regular season standings. The Devils have three outstanding forward lines and a goalie who, despite being past his prime, remains one of the game's best. They even acquired a backup, Johan Hedberg, who can allow them to occasionally rest Martin Brodeur before he is eligible for social security.
Unfortunately, the Devils did not put enough support in front of the net, even losing solid defenceman Mike Mattou in free agency. Without a blueline to handle the fantastic forwards of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, they cannot seriously contend for the division title.
Only Road Into Pittsburgh Lined With Snipers
With two MVP candidates and five more forwards that could play on some teams' top lines, Pittsburgh has some of the best scoring in the league.They also have a championship pedigree, having reached the Stanley Cup Finals in two of the last three years and hoisting the Cup in 2009.
Pittsburgh's problem is on the other end of the ice: Last season, they simply could not keep other team's from lighting the lamp enough to win the division, and had the second-worst defence going into the playoffs. With the forwards of New Jersey and Philadelphia, they need a better blueline to avoid Marc Andre Fleury having to struggle to keep pucks out of the net with regularity.
Philadelphia Flyers Soar Into Playoffs With Division Title
Chris Pronger is one of the dirtiest players in the modern era of the NHL. Now that Chris Simon is out of the league, no one has more suspensions, and no one else feels justified in stomping on a guy's leg for being in his way.
And no one else skated to the bench with his heart stopped. And no one but Niklas Lidstrom has been better over the past 11 seasons.
This is the deepest blueline in the league, with six players behind Pronger who are capable of playing major roles in this league. They are also among the deepest at forward, with four good lines and three that present major threats to score.
As always, their Achilles Heel is in net. It is wishful thinking that Michael Leighton, who came almost out of nowhere last season down the stretch, or Brian Boucher, who filled in nicely, are the answer. So unless Sergei Bobrovsky joins a list of NHL goalies to emerge with great seasons, this team backs up the best skaters in the league with questionable netminding.